A charity has expanded its support for homeless and vulnerable young people in West Norfolk, as a political row broke out over council chiefs’ response to the trend.
A £270,000 extension to the YMCA’s community house in North Lynn was formally opened by borough mayor David Whitby on Thursday.
The scheme provides six new bedrooms, two new shower rooms and an upgraded kitchen at the Woolstencroft Avenue complex.
The site can now provide accommodation for 15 young people who would otherwise be homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
YMCA Norfolk chief executive Tim Smeeting said there had been a 50 per cent rise in applications for accommodation at the site in the past six months alone.
He said: “The development has also created a dedicated community space so all residents can participate in a wide range of self-development opportunities, enabling them to develop life skills, engage in training, education and find employment.
“On average, we currently have around one successful move-on per month in King’s Lynn. We anticipate being able to now support around 20 young people each year, so they do not have to face living in an unsafe environment or on the streets.
“This is the first step in a wider plan to offer more housing and development opportunities for young people and families in Lynn so they can reach their full potential.”
The ceremony came hours before councillors clashed over the rising trend of homelessness in the borough at West Norfolk’s Council’s first full meeting of the new year.
Earlier figures had shown the number of people registered as homeless in the borough had jumped to 42 in November from just five at the same point in 2015.
Adrian Lawrence, the authority’s portfolio holder for housing and community, said the council was also expecting more than 2,000 people to seek advice on homelessness issues in 2016-17, compared to 1,856 in 2015-16.
But Labour group leader John Collop accused Mr Lawrence of appearing to treat the issue as “something like a joke” when responding to public questions.
That provoked angry shouts of “disgrace” and “ridiculous” from the Conservative benches.
However, Mr Collop continued: “I don’t think he takes it as seriously as he should.
“You’re saying there’s been an increase in people sleeping rough. We know. What we need is help. Why are we not co-ordinating the response? What is the portfolio holder doing?”
Mr Lawrence replied: “We have a strategy that’s gone through cabinet and this council every year. If we had no plan we couldn’t do anything. We’re the first to try to do something about it.
“We try our best to engage with people living on the streets but if they don’t want to engage with us there’s nothing we can do.
“Over Christmas, we had various things in place to encourage people to come off the streets. Not one came forward. We cannot force people to do this.”